Starring: Mike Boettcher, Carlos Boettcher
Directed by: David Salzburg and Christian Tureaud (debut)
Films about modern warfare are often problematic, not only for the deeply-divisive politics of the war at hand, but for the fact that the people fighting these wars are our contemporaries in society. Audiences tend to feel uncomfortable with anything other than near-deification of today’s soldier fighting today’s war, and for deeply-rooted social reasons. After all, these are our friends and neighbors and family members. No one wants to see their service and sacrifice as anything other than a noble cause, so the fiction of our time often grossly exaggerates the superhuman heroics of troops on the battlefield. When the military men on screen can survive a hail of bullets riddling their bodies and tumbles down jagged mountainsides and still stand up to keep fighting (I’m looking at you, “Lone Survivor”), it seems to cheapen the less Hollywood-ready injuries real soldiers and sailors and airmen and marines are often crippled or killed by. How dispiriting is it to have a “true story” feature back-breaking injuries that don’t result in broken backs?
“The Hornet’s Nest,” a documentary from veteran ABC News journalist Mike Boettcher and his son Carlos, looks to remedy that by telling the real story of the men and women at war. The Boettchers embedded in Afghanistan to tell the story of the longest war in U.S. history while along the way hoping to reconnect as father and son. The bullets and bombs are real, the dead don’t resume living when the cameras stop rolling, and the anguish the elder Boettcher feels when his son is unaccounted for in a firefight is heartbreaking.
“The Hornet’s Nest” isn’t without its flaws, though. At just over an hour and a half, the somewhat scattered narrative makes the film feel longer than its runtime. But Boettcher is a seasoned storyteller, so when the story connects emotionally—such as a scene near the end featuring a final roll call in front of battlefield crosses—it really hits home. Boettcher refreshingly steers clear of painting things with a political brush, instead focusing on the facts of military life in a war zone, some of which comes across as shockingly mundane and normal. This film is a must-see for anyone with an appreciation for the military – a movie that actually appreciates the military.